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Last updated on 4th November 2018

What do luxury moisturiser, bottled water and diamonds have in common?

Spending extra cash on these items won’t make you live a better life, but they might be making you throw away your money to advertising tricks.

Luxury skincare products

If your skin absorbed every molecule it touches, eating wouldn’t be necessary, and soaking in a salt bath would be a life-threatening activity. The reason it isn’t is that your skin is, in fact, a pretty good barrier for a wide range of substances. This includes many of the purportedly ‘harmful’ chemicals as well as a variety of vitamins and sophisticated-sounding plant extracts. Moreover, even assuming that things like blueberry extract do wonders to your skin, there are no regulations as to how much of it a product needs to contain in order to be advertised as such – for all you know, it could be (and often is) a single drop. The bottom line is that, in the vast majority of cases, those expensive cosmetics don’t really differ from the cheaper alternatives in terms of their effectiveness. In fact, in some cases the mass-market brands may be more effective, as they have more money to spend on research aimed at improving their products.

Curious about the science behind skincare? Some good articles on this topic can be found on The Beauty Brains.

Bottled water 

Bottled water is expensive – in fact, it can be 240 to 10,000 times costlier than tap water! But is it worth the price? According to NRDC, not really. First of all, they report that around a quarter of water bottles sold are just bottled tap water. Secondly, 22% of the brands tested contained levels of potentially harmful chemicals that are higher than the government limits – perhaps because tap water is subject to much more frequent and stringent quality testing than the bottled alternatives. Oh, and lastly – studies show that most people cannot even distinguish between tap and bottled water on the basis of its taste if both are served in the same way!

Gluten-free products

…that never contained gluten in the first place. Aside from whether going gluten-free provides any health benefits for someone without gluten intolerance or Coeliac disease, shoppers should realise that choosing products labelled as ‘gluten-free’ will cost them significantly more than a regular shop. With the increase in popularity of gluten-free diets, food marketers are trying to capture our attention (i.e., money) with gluten-free ads and labels. However, these labels are typically associated with a higher price for a product – even if the product itself doesn’t naturally contain gluten. Corn or rice, for example, are naturally gluten-free – don’t fall in the trap of paying double for them. If you’re concerned about any allergens in a food, check the ingredients.

Fancily-boxed branded medication

Every pharmaceutical drug, original or generic, must pass stringent tests and controls imposed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to ensure that it is clean, safe, and does exactly what it says on the box. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, if a brand of medicine has made it to the shelf of a UK pharmacy or store, it is a quality product. And because every pill said to contain a specified amount of a specified drug must contain exactly that, it most often doesn’t matter which brand logo appears on the box in terms of how effective it’s going to be (or at least not from a pharmacological perspective). Yet, pharmaceutical companies often use marketing tricks to convince you that their product – even if identical to the alternatives – is superior in treating a particular concern. For example, the manufacturer of ‘Nurofen’ was sued in Australia in 2015 for marketing identical tablets differently for different types of pain – along with a higher price tag for the ‘specialised’ products!

Detox teas

Guess what is the most detoxifying thing known to humans? Your liver. Beware of all the ‘detox’ products – many do not offer anything at all, and if they do, they tend to be incredibly expensive for what they offer. Do they make you feel skinnier, or more energetic? Check the ingredients: it may be a super-dose of caffeine, laxatives, or diuretics – substances that make you temporarily lighter by making you lose water from your body, not body fat. These can be dangerous and harmful to health, as well as very costly.

Diamond jewellery

Diamonds are incredibly overpriced, and no, they aren’t rare at all – their luxury status is simply a reflection of some genius marketing techniques. On top of that, a diamond vs. diamond-shaped simulant are virtually indistinguishable to a non-expert – especially when mounted onto a piece of jewellery and viewed from a socially acceptable distance. But even if you decide on buying diamonds, know that this also works the other way – you can easily be fooled into thinking that a cheaper, diamond-like substitute is in fact the real thing.

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